Wednesday 6 February 2013, 12:12 | By Chris Cooke
Welsh royalties dispute heading for copyright tribunal
The royalties dispute between the BBC and the Welsh language music community is heading to copyright tribunal after the two sides failed to reach an agreement.
As previously reported, Welsh-language songwriters and publishers opposed a change in 2007 to the way royalties paid by the BBC’s Welsh radio stations were then distributed to rights owners by collecting society PRS For Music. Three-way discussions between the BBC, PRS and affected music companies continued for a few years without resolution, until eventually about 300 Welsh-language creators and rights owners quit PRS and set up their own collecting society called Eos.
The change came into effect at the start of the year, and meant that the BBC could no long play songs owned by Eos members on its Welsh language station BBC Cymru under its PRS licence. With no deal done with Eos, the BBC channel has had to get by without playing about 30,000 songs, many of which would previously have been core to its catalogue. The dispute is also hindering the Beeb’s abilities to meet its commitment to Welsh language programming.
With subsequent talks between the BBC and Eos having failed to reach an agreement on royalty rates, the Corporation has now confirmed its intent to take the matter to copyright tribunal, the special court that considers copyright and royalty issues where parties cannot agree on collective licensing terms.
Confirming that intent, the Beeb said this week: “Obviously, we’d prefer to come to an agreement without the need for a tribunal hearing, and that remains our focus. But if a permanent settlement cannot be reached through negotiation with Eos over the coming weeks, a tribunal hearing would ensure all the arguments are heard and that a fair and transparent decision on commercial rates could be reached. That’s why we informed Eos last week that we would be starting the copyright tribunal process in parallel with our on-going negotiations”.
The BBC has said that it will continue to negotiate with Eos out of court, that it will call off its copyright tribunal application if an agreement is reached, and that it has offered to contribute to the Welsh language collecting society’s legal costs to “ensure that Eos is able to put its arguments to the independent copyright tribunal which is the established legal process to resolve commercial disputes of this nature in a fair and binding manner”.
Eos’ CEO Dafydd Roberts said he was considering a response to the BBC’s tribunal plans, telling reporters: “We’ve taken legal advice on that today, so we’ll be considering our position in terms of a copyright tribunal. But what’s disappointing is that whilst we thought we were negotiating with the BBC on various terms, in fact all they were doing was preparing ground for the copyright tribunal”.
Despite seemingly resenting the BBC’s latest plans regards the ongoing dispute, Eos members are considering allowing the Beeb to start using their combined catalogue again while negotiations are ongoing. Roberts says that he doesn’t want BBC Cymru to lose listeners because of the dispute, plus presumably Eos members don’t really want to lose access for too long to what is arguably the most high profile public platform for their music.